Effects of psychotropic drugs
on the developing brain

In the ‘effects of Psychotropic drugs On the Developing brain (ePOD)’ study we investigate the effects of medicines on the developing brain of children. Most drugs prescribed to children have only been tested in adults but not in children, or only for a very short period of time. Therefore, very little is known on their long-term effects on brain development. We study the effects of the antidepressant fluoxetine, for treatment of major depression, as well as methylphenidate (MPH) for treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Recent advances in molecular neuroimaging by my group (see also NewCheMRI) now enable to assess the effects of these drugs on developing brain dopamine and serotonin neurotransmission non-invasively. Application of these innovative neuroimaging methodologies for children research is at the heart of our work. We apply these molecular imaging techniques in clinical trials involving both children and adults, as well as studies in animals.

We found that juvenile treatment with fluoxetine induces permanent changes to the developing rat serotonergic system, resulting in abnormal emotional behavior later on in life, in contrast to adult treated animals. With MPH we also found similar age-dependent effects in juvenile treated animals when compared to adults: on striatal and hippocampal volume, neurogenesis, as well as white matter connectivity, and emotional behavior. Ongoing trials in children and young adults treated with these drugs will show whether these findings in rodents also occur in the living human brain.

This unique and very innovative line of research provides insight into benefit and harm (evidence based medicine) of psychotropic drugs on the brain and its application in personalized medicine.